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Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace!
Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare! - Japanese Proverb

2 December   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Have you noticed the surfeit of peace plans these days that purport to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The most conspicuous one still remains the ‘roadmap’ that was tailored by the Quartet some nineteen months ago. Then, there is the joint but unofficial Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan, as well as the Geneva Initiative spearheaded by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo that attempts to address the core issues. Finally, there are the two plans unfurled this week by the Labour Party as well as by the Israeli Jewish settlers. But have you also noticed that the provisions of those five plans are quite incongruent? And the starkest incongruence lies with the Israeli settlers’ plan rejecting the dismantlement of settlements [illegal under International law], any withdrawal from [occupied] territories or any compromise on a law of return for Palestinian refugees. The other plans appear to share some striations in terms both of mutual realism and pragmatism.

The five peace plans were the centre of attention last week after President George Bush had expressed in London his dissatisfaction with Israeli settlements, the ‘separation wall’ being built around the Palestinian West Bank territories, as much as the daily humiliation of Palestinians by Israel. The US Administration later also announced it was cutting off the sum of US$289. 5million over three years from the total of US$ 9billion in loan guarantees it provides to Israel. However, political pundits have opined that President Bush is only cosmetically trying to appear concerned about the direction and dynamism of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, since Israel would still be able to raise with considerable ease this [relatively] paltry sum on the international market by paying1 -2% in interest rates.

But how does this rush for peace reflect concretely on the ground? How does it affect the lives of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who are bearing day-in-day-out the collective brunt of an endemic and wrathful conflict? After all, was it not only last week that four former heads of the Israeli Shin Bet General Security Service delivered a blistering criticism of Israeli tough military measures against Palestinians? Did they not say that Israel urgently needed a political solution to the conflict? Indeed, on 14 November2003 , the Israeli Yediot Aharonot newspaper splashed a huge front-page headline over an interview with the former chiefs of the security service. In it, they warned that ‘Israel was in grave danger’ as a result of its counterproductive strategy that was ‘placing a network of restrictions on the Palestinian population and breeding greater militancy’. They pointed out that the Sharon-led government was focusing almost entirely on military solutions at the expense of finding ways to reach a permanent peace deal. They stressed that peace plans calling for gradual steps were likely to fail since neither Israelis nor Palestinians are prepared to take a major risk that could break the current stalemate unless they could expect a major reward. Any peace deal, they added, would require Israel to abandon most of its nearly 150 settlements, where about230 , 000settlers live in the [occupied] West Bank and Gaza.

This bold critique by four former Israeli top-brass security chiefs followed a letter signed by 27 reserve pilots in the Israeli Air Force opposing air-strikes against Palestinians that targeted militants in heavily populated civilian areas, let alone a petition signed by several hundred Israeli reserve soldiers refusing to serve in the West Bank or Gaza.

The regrettable truth is that PM Ariel Sharon’s government has been using the global war against terrorism as a pretext to further its colonialist aims of grabbing as much land as possible, and rendering any future territorial compromise with Palestinians less practicable, less viable and less contiguous. Not only has the present Israeli government been misshaping the war against terrorism for its own devices, it has also been squelching Palestinians in their own homes by applying an increasingly apartheid policy of segregation and discrimination in the Palestinian territories. Imagine that there are now482 Israeli military checkpoints that divide Palestinian land into 300 small [Israeli-controlled] clusters!

It is self-evident that Iraq and Israel are not identical cases under International law. The UNSC Resolutions that Iraq violated over a dozen years were mandatory and carried penalties, whereas those criticising Israel were not. However, such legal nuances cannot surely excuse successive Israeli governments for failing miserably to conform to a raft of UNSC and GA resolutions during 36 years of occupation. The unremitting repression by Israel of Palestinians has stoked the Intifada and resulted in the bloody deaths of scores of Israeli and Palestinian children, women and men from both sides. As MK Yosef Paritzky, Minister for Infrastructure from the Shinui party in the Israeli coalition government stated recently, ‘The failure to differentiate between civilians and terrorists turns all Palestinians into potential suicide bombers.’ Yet, as if adding insult to injury, Israel is now building an illegal separation wall that is reaching far into Palestinian territory and annexing further Palestinian lands. As a result, different closed zones or ‘seams’ are untying farmers from their homes, students from their universities, children from their schools, husbands from their wives or families, and villagers from each other! Is it any wonder then that MP Gerald Kaufman mooted in an article entitled Why not invade Israel? on 22 November2003 , ‘If rogue nations are to be brought into line by the US, shouldn’t Israel be punished for ignoring UN resolutions?’ Or even when Ilan Pappé, Academic Director of the Research Institute for Peace in Israel, hit the nail on the head when he wrote, ‘The tedious and hackneyed truth remains that the end to violence of all kinds (including indiscriminate violence against the innocent) will come only with the end of the occupation.’

But the story does not end here! Earlier this month, an investigative report published in Le Monde Diplomatique by the independent journalist Jonathan Cook unveiled another covert Israeli activity. Cook wrote about Establishment1391 , a fortress on a hill above a kibbutz, close to the pre- 1967Green Line, that is hidden from public view by high walls and pine trees. Two towers keep watch on the outside world, and the buildings resemble the Taggarts (police stations, of which there are still 70 in Israel today) that were built throughout Palestine in the1930 ’s during the British Mandate. However, this compound is not an ordinary Taggart either! In fact, Establishment 1391 does not appear on any map, has been erased from aerial photographs and no signposts indicate its existence. However, according to Israeli newspapers, Establishment 1391is the Guantanamo of Israel, a reference to X-Ray Camp, the American prison in the US enclave of Cuba that holds Taleban prisoners and members of Al Qa’ida. Israeli lawyer Leah Tsemel and the Israeli Hamoked human rights organisation have alleged that this ‘establishment’ has at some time or other held Palestinian, Lebanese or other Arab prisoners within its walls. In fact, this gaol is a veritable legal black hole within Israeli judicial space, and the men incarcerated within its walls enjoy no juridical rights or appeal procedures. Moreover, the International Committee of the Red Cross has never been allowed to inspect Establishment1391 , and Israeli or Palestinian lawyers have failed time and again to gain access to it despite their being granted successive habeas corpus writs.

And the saga continues! A disturbing indictment of Israeli occupation practices in the West Bank and Gaza came out with a recent Report submitted by Jean Ziegler, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Although the UN has not yet formally adopted the Report in full, the Rapporteur does not mince his words. He states that ‘hunger and malnutrition [in the Palestinian territories] are being created by the current [Israeli] measures. He adds, ‘The Occupied Palestinian Territories are on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe, as a result of extremely harsh military measures imposed by the occupying Israeli military force since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000.’

In his Conclusions and Recommendations, Ziegler states that ‘there can be no justification for harsh internal closures that prevent people from having access to food and water.’ He affirms, ‘As Amnesty International has noted, it is not permissible to punish the whole population for the actions of a few of its members.’ The Rapporteur continues, ‘As an occupying Power, the Government of Israel has obligations under international human rights, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and under humanitarian law to all territories and populations under its effective control, and is therefore obligated to ensure the right to food of the Palestinian people as well as its own citizens.’ He goes on, ‘The new security wall / apartheid wall must be halted immediately.’ Citing the Palestinian town of Qalqilya as example, he adds, ‘The result for Qalqilya is that it has become - there is no other word for it - a ghetto, a term with chilling resonance for Jews whose forebears were restricted to such areas across Europe not many generations ago. But confining the Palestinians into ghettos or into Bantustans will induce the greater hunger and misery of the Palestinian population. The slow process of dispossession of the Palestinian people, as manifested in the confiscation of land, the extension of settlements and settler-only roads, and the building of the security fence / apartheid wall, where this deprives thousands of Palestinians of their lands, homes and crops is a violation to the right of food … A future Palestinian state will need to have control over their international frontiers in order to be able to export fruits and vegetables and to import vital food supplies’. The Report recommends that the Bertini Commitments [for humanitarian access as well as the right to food and water made to Ms Catherine Bertini, Personal Humanitarian Envoy to the Middle East for the [UN] Secretary-General and Executive Director of the World Food Programme, by Israel in August2002 ] should be made binding under the ‘roadmap’ process.

A combination of wholesale measures, ranging from closures and land appropriations to checkpoints and settlements, is making any future compromise leading toward a two-state solution even less tenable. How can one negotiate a two-state solution - irrespective of its fons et origo - when Israel has systematically been undermining the fundamentals of a ‘land for peace’ agreement? Yet, despite those indignant odds and the resurgence of the bi-national option in some intellectual corridors, a recent public opinion poll led by the Baker Institute at Rice University found that53 % of Israelis and 56% of Palestinians support a peace accord based on a two-state solution. The poll evinced acceptance for an almost total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, division of sovereignty in Jerusalem and compensation for Palestinian refugees. But do politicians listen to the ordinary Israeli and Palestinian men or women? Is it not time that those same politicians on both sides cease from muddying the political discourse and smothering it for their own ends? And by corollary, would it therefore not be high time for the Israeli government to desist from its policies of occupation so that Palestinians can found at long last their state and help stop the cycle of tit-for-tat violence? Is it not also time to devise an appropriate legal agreement that is endorsed by the UN and bolstered by international guarantor clauses [to monitor and help implement its provisions]? Is it not time to end the misery of two proud but embattled peoples? Otherwise, the political abyss staring Israelis and Palestinians in the face today would only lead to further carnage, mayhem and misery.

Do Israelis and Palestinians dare to espouse together such a lofty vision for the interest of the broader region? Or are they merely daydreaming and acting without long-term vision? And if so, when will the ghastly nightmare of occupation end? As the editor Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber once asserted in the pages of the weekly Express magazine, it is only when politicians sit down and identify the roots of a conflict that they can then advance steadily on the path to peace!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   2 December


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